Last updated: March 7, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

The discus can change its colors slightly based on personal and environmental factors

Discus Scientific Classification


Discus Conservation Status

Discus Locations

Discus Locations

Discus Facts

Small invertebrates and plant matter
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
The discus can change its colors slightly based on personal and environmental factors
Estimated Population Size
Biggest Threat
Habitat change
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright colors
Other Name(s)
Pompadour fish
Gestation Period
3 to 4 days
Water Type
  • Fresh
Optimum pH Level
6 - 7
Incubation Period
10 days
Age Of Independence
2 - 3 weeks
Average Spawn Size
Deep, slow-moving waters
Turtles, birds, and other fish
  • Diurnal
Ray-finned fish
Common Name
Number Of Species
Brazil, Columbia and Peru
One of the only schooling Cichlids!

Discus Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • Green
  • Orange
Skin Type
10 to 15 years in captivity
150g – 250g
12.3cm – 15.2cm (4.8in – 6in)
Age of Sexual Maturity
1 - 3 years

Discus Images

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The discus fish can change its colors slightly based on personal and environmental factors.

The discus is a genus of brightly colored tropical fish (and a member of the cichlid family) that resides in the long, sinewy waterways of the Amazon Basin. Because of their vivid colors and intricate markings, the discus is one of the most popular types of tropical aquarium fish in the world. It has undergone selective breeding in captivity for all types of exotic markings and patterns, many of which don’t even exist in the wild.

Incredible Discus Fish Facts!

  • These fish prefer to congregate in large groups with dozens of members for protection and feeding.
  • The discus fish appears to derive its bright colors from combinations of pigments in its skin cells.
  • An alternate name for the fish is the pompadour fish. Named after Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of King Louis XV of France, the pompadour is a popular hairstyle in which a large volume of hair is swept up over the forehead. Because of its bright colors, the discus has also earned the title King of the Aquarium.

Discus Fish Classification and Scientific Name

The scientific name of the discus is Symphysodon. This name may be a combination of the Greek words symphysis, meaning grown together, and odous, meaning teeth. It belongs to the family of cichlids, one of the most diverse vertebrate families in the world.

Discus Fish Species

Taxonomists once disagreed about how many species roamed the wild, but a genetic study of the discus seemed to confirm that there were three distinct species. The blue discus and red discus, mentioned below, seem to be the most closely related. They are able to produce viable hybrids together. Several more types have been produced through selective breeding in captivity.

  • Blue Discus: Living downriver of the Rio Purus in the Eastern Amazon Basin, the blue (or alternatively, the brow discus) has some combination of blue and brown colors all around its body.
  • Green Discus: Also native to the downriver Purus area in the Western Amazon Basin, the green discus sports a yellow-green body with some blue highlights around the fringes and some black stripes over its body.
  • Red Discuss: Native to the Rio Negro and surrounding areas, the red discus has a bright red-orange body, sometimes complemented with blue-green patterns and black stripes. This species is also known as the Heckel discus.

Discus Fish Appearance

For good reason this fish has earned the name of discus. It has a relatively flat, rounded body with big, prominent fins on the back and pelvis. As mentioned previously, the discus is classified according to its three main body colors (blue, red, and green), but there are so many unique patterns that it is difficult to describe them all in detail. The fish also has the remarkable ability to change its color based on age, mood, environmental conditions, and stress levels.

These fish usually grows no larger than 6 inches and about half a pound in the wild, but reports seem to indicate that it can grow to 8 or 9 inches in captivity. Except in the breeding season, when the female abdomen is enlarged, it is very difficult to tell the sexes apart from each other.

A group of discus in an aquarium

Discus Fish Distribution, Population, and Habitat

In the wild, these fish are exclusively endemic to the tributaries and floodplains of the Amazon River Basin. It is especially prolific in slow-moving blackwater channels. Because of the constant flooding that occurs throughout the year, the fish will often congregate around fallen trees near the shore.

The three discus species are not currently classified by the IUCN Red List, but they are presumed to be in stable and good health because they are so common throughout their native river systems. However, the modification or loss of its natural habitat is probably the greatest threat to the survival of the discus.

Discus Predators and Prey

These fish is an intermediate part of the food chain. It serves as an important link between the nutritious plants and animals at the bottom and the predators above it.

What does the discus fish eat?

The majority of these fish’s diet consists of algae and other small plant material. This is supplemented with small invertebrates such as worms and crustaceans.

What eats the discus fish?

The main predators of these fish include turtles, birds, and larger species of fish. It is also known to cannibalize the unrelated larvae of its own species.

Discus Fish Reproduction and Lifespan

Based on scientific observations, it appears that the timing of the discus reproduction and mating season is highly influenced by changes in the flood level of their local environment. They tend to spawn right as the water levels begin to rise as a way to take advantage of the abundant food and lower predator density of the flooded forests in which they congregate. When a couple is ready to mate, they move away from the rest of the group, perhaps to reduce the incidence of cannibalism. After copulating, the eggs usually hatch in about three or four days.

As with many other cichlid species, the discus parents invest some time and care into the development of their offspring by guarding and cleaning the eggs. However, unlike many other cichlids, the discus has a unique adaptation: they secrete a mucus-like substance through their skin for the larvae to feed on for the first few weeks of their lives. When one parent begins to tire of this process, the larvae will switch to another parent. At the end of this period, the larvae will have grown large enough to fend for themselves.

The young discus will start to reproduce on their own after a year of age. The typical lifespan is some 10 to 15 years. But life is rough for a young fish, and many of them fall prey to other animals in the wild before they can reach full size.

Discus Fish in Fishing and Cooking

The discus is rarely caught in the wild for its meat. It’s isolated, difficult to reach, and just not that desired. But the discus is often raised in artificial environments for the purpose of selling it on the pet market. This is where it has proven to be incredibly valuable.

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Discus FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Discuses herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Discuses are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.

What Kingdom do Discuses belong to?

Discuses belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What is the best food for discus fish?

Even in an artificial environment, it is a good idea to replicate its natural diet as closely as possible. Tropical flakes, algae rounds, and shrimp pellets are some of the best foods you can give it. Try to make sure that you have a good balance between plant food and meat.

Is discus fish aggressive?

The discus has a reputation for its peaceable and docile nature, but the male will sometimes display dominant behavior toward nearby discus fish, especially in the breeding season. If you notice constant fights, then it may be a good idea to remove one of them from the aquarium. Outside of its own species, the discus works best with other tropical fish that thrive in similar conditions such as the neon tetra and dwarf cichlids.

How many discus should be kept together?

Since the discus is a rather social fish, it is a good idea to keep at least six of them in your tank with at least 10 gallons of water per fish.

Are discus fish hard to keep?

The discus has specific water requirements that make it somewhat difficult to keep and care for. It is a good idea to purchase a tall tank with gentle water movement and vertically arranged plants and driftwood to simulate its natural environment. The pH should be around 6.0 or 7.0. You will want to add a water heater to keep the temperature a balmy 82 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The Heckel discus prefers a water temperature of 90 degrees.

How long do discus live?

If it receives the proper care and maintenance, the discus can survive at least 10 to 15 years in captivity. You should always be on the lookout for early signs of disease such as discoloration, lethargy, and swelling.

What phylum to Discuses belong to?

Discuses belong to the phylum Chordata.

What family do Discuses belong to?

Discuses belong to the family Cichlidae.

What order do Discuses belong to?

Discuses belong to the order Perciformes.

What type of covering do Discuses have?

Discuses are covered in Scales.

What genus do Discuses belong to?

Discuses belong to the genus Symphysodon.

Where do Discuses live?

Discuses live in Brazil, Columbia, and Peru.

In what type of habitat do Discuses live?

Discuses live in deep, slow-moving waters.

What are some predators of Discuses?

Predators of Discuses include turtles, birds, and other fish.

What is an interesting fact about Discuses?

Discuses are one of the only schooling Cichlids!

What is a distinguishing feature of the Discus?

Discuses are brightly colored.

How many species of Discus are there?

There are 3 species of Discus.

What is the biggest threat to the Discus?

The biggest threat to the Discus is habitat change.

What is the optimal pH for a Discus?

The optimal pH for a Discus is between 6.0 and 7.0.

What is another name for the Discus?

The Discus is also called the pompadour fish.

How many Discuses are left in the world?

The population size of the Discus is unknown.

How do Discuses have babies?

Discuses lay eggs.

How to say Discus in ...
  1. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/discus-fish
  2. Aqueon, Available here: https://www.aqueon.com/information/care-sheets/discus
  3. The Spruce Pets, Available here: https://www.thesprucepets.com/how-to-successfully-breed-the-discus-3993603

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